Why is there so little representation? You may ask yourself. It’s a valid question. Where are all the ace characters?
This is a question that has no singular answer. The closest one I can offer though, is another question. How can our sex-obsessed society be interested in a character who is removed from that obsession?
Michael Foucault, French philosopher and writer, writes, “It may well be that we talk about sex more than anything else” (33). An asexual person, someone who can add to the conversation about sex, is excluded from it. If excluded from the constant conversation of society, how can we actively participate and share our thoughts?
Alexander Doty argues, in his piece, “There’s Something Queer Here,” that “queer erotics,” or places in which queer people can “express a range of erotic desire frequently linked to Western cultures” is one of the things that draws people to media (4).
While it is a bold claim to say that audiences are manipulated using sexual desire, it is not an incorrect one. Hollywood chooses the most sexually appealing actors, the most sex-filled plotlines, all to appeal to our mass “sexusociety.”
This is most evident as Doty outlines how Broadway musicals appeal to both men and women because of the actors, the flashy dancing. He writes:
“My pleasure in Gentleman Prefer Blondes…. experiencing vicarious if temporary empowerment through their use of of sexual allure to attract men” (9).
As shown here, Doty himself was attracted to the sexual aspect of the media. So if we consider an asexual person, one removed from this attraction, what then does appeal?
Of course, asexual person are normal people who can easily be enticed by plot, character and more. To ask this question, is really to assume an inhuman stance.
However, many people demand explanations of asexual people. Marks, in his own essay about asexual representation said, “When the asexual body presented on camera aligns with the sexualnormative assumptions about which bodies “should” be sexual, people actively demand explanations” (43).
To remove sex from the equation, unfortunately, is to create some given degree of alienation. Asexual people themselves, as outlined in one journal article, “experience the alienation that comes from lacking sexual desire in a world that presumes sexual desire” (661). Just as asexual people are isolated from allosexual people (because they are removed from a world that is obsessed with sexual attraction), allosexual people can be isolated from asexual people.
In this case, it is sadly, a little understandable why mainstream TV doesn’t have any asexual storylines. To create a character not motivated by sexual desire or attraction, distances themselves from the allosexual mainstream audiences.
For example, if we look at Sherlock, he is treated as an inhuman, a “cyborg,” as Coppa puts it. He is removed from sex and romance, and we can’t easily connect with him. This is similar to Sheldon Cooper, whose intelligence and asexuality have isolated him from audiences so much we can laugh, but can’t connect.
Sexualization as a form of power
The whole other side of this argument, is that sex, and sexualization equates to power. Foucault argues, “We must not forget that by making sex into that which, above all else, had to be confessed” (35). Sex is both a dirty secret and an open piece of knowledge.
But even more so, the epistemology of sex, is controlled. People do exploit the knowledge of sex, known familiarly as “the secret,” one only learns about when they are mature enough.
What if we do not care or have interest in the secret? Many asexual people lack interest in sex (though, once again, sexuality is fluid), so to be controlled and manipulated by knowledge of sex would be quite a futile attempt.
Sex itself is power. Some women, notably Marxist feminists, believe that sex is a “form of male control,” meant only to enforce patriarchy. My very existence as an asexual woman, removes me from that control.
This control is also something that extends to the physical. Bodies can easily be exploited – desexualized or sexualized – for power. Most evident, is are the sexual politics of capitalism.
For example, female bodies are sexualized for economic purposes. The ads we see day to day, are usually that of a naked woman with some product against their bare skin. Foucault remarks on the bodily aspect of power, “The power which thus took charge of sexuality set about contacting bodies, caressing them with its eyes, intensifying areas, electrifying surfaces, dramatizing troubled moments. It wrapped the sexual body in its embrace” (44).
To give pleasure, to take it away, itself is a power move. Whether it is sexual, economic, or something else, power is often exerted by having control over something (in this case, sexual pleasure or domination of body image).
Consequently, asexuality is the exception. But even more so, it is a resistance against power. Przybylo asks, “Is it possible that sexusociety’s impossibilizing and pathologizing of asexuality, are symptoms of the dread which amounts from the realization that sexuality is ‘dead’, gone, absent?”
Building off this idea, if people believe that sexuality is indeed “dead,” where does most power come from?
White Men Galore
You might have notice that majority of the asexual characters I look at, are white cisgender men. That’s because they have the privilege to be asexual.
In an article focusing on Doctor Who (the titular character is considered asexual), the writer remarks, “When was the last time you saw a female character in a sci-fi show who wasn’t in some way sexualized, or at least defined largely by her gender?”
While this question is specific to the sci-fi genre, I think it is best to apply it to most genres. Many female characters are usually defined by their experiences resisting patriarchy, sexism in the workplace etc. There are still so many sexualizing stereotypes attached to both women and people of color. If we make those characters asexual, it would begin to dismantle some of those stereotypes, those ideologies that have been put in place. But only the white man has the privilege. He still has power in society, and to take away sex, means only to take away one aspect of his power.
Sex = Freedom, or does it?
During the second wave of feminism, ideas of sex as means of liberation from rigid patriarchal norms began to form. “The suppression of women’s’ sexual desire… have been primary underpinnings of male supremacy,” Ellen Willis argues in her essay, “Towards a Feminist Sexual Revolution.”
To assert one’s sexuality, the freedom to choose pleasure for one’s self, is a way of sexual liberation from the patriarchy. As echoed by Foucault, there is a power, particularly male power, in sex (namely, heterosexual intercourse).
However, a new movement focusing on asexuality developed during the early 1970s. While it wasn’t fully on asexuality, but more so, an anti-sex position, its manifesto outlined many ideas found in the ace community.
For example, the Asexual Manifesto talked about how we live in a sexusociety in which people “regard sex with an extreme and irrational amount of attention” (Orlando 4).
Lisa Orlando, the author, writes asexuality as “self-contained sexuality” (4). As asexual people then, we have control over our own sexuality. But to create an asexual character then, the writers, the creators themselves feel that they do not have power over them.
Sex is considered power, as I fervently argue in this essay. To remove it from such a character, means that it can’t be commodified and sexualized for audiences. That is why there are no asexual characters. For how can you capture and control audiences’ interest, attention when there is no sex involved?
Asexual-Manifesto-Lisa-Orlando.Pdf – Box. https://m.box.com/shared_item/https%3A%2F%2Fapp.box.com%2Fs%2Fp7ngvv3iueaj0hk7xadkwd92af2zx4yz. Accessed 16 June 2021.
Cerankowski, Karli June, and Megan Milks. “New Orientations: Asexuality and Its Implications for Theory and Practice.” Feminist Studies, vol. 36, no. 3, Feminist Studies, Inc., 2010, pp. 650–64.
DOTY, ALEXANDER. “There’s Something Queer Here.” Making Things Perfectly Queer: Interpreting Mass Culture, University of Minnesota Press, 1993. Zotero, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttttcmx.5.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. 1st American ed, Pantheon Books, 1978.
Hawking, Tom. “‘Doctor Who’ and the Fear of an Asexual Female Protagonist.” Flavorwire, https://www.flavorwire.com/395770/doctor-who-and-the-fear-of-an-asexual-female-protagonist. Accessed 16 June 2021.
Marks, Benjamin. “Sick, Dead, or Lying:” A Critical Textual Analysis of Asexuality in Popular Culture.
Przybylo, Ela, and Danielle Cooper. “Asexual Resonances: Tracing a Queerly Asexual Archive.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol. 20, no. 3, Duke University Press, 2014, pp. 297–318.
Przybylo, Ela. “Crisis and Safety: The Asexual in Sexusociety.” Sexualities, vol. 14, no. 4, SAGE Publications Ltd, Aug. 2011, pp. 444–61. SAGE Journals, doi:10.1177/1363460711406461.
Willis, Ellen. “Toward a Feminist Sexual Revolution.” Social Text, no. 6, Duke University Press, 1982, pp. 3–21. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/466614.